This result was incredibly harsh on Hitchin who produced their best performance of the season as far as the quality of their football was concerned. The first half saw Hitchin dominate possession and they outplayed Tiverton but found themselves 2-0 down as the hosts scored from their only two chances. The second half again saw Hitchin play the better football even after going 3-0 down but a late goal from Lewis Rolfe was scant consolation. Hitchin were not clinical in the final third of the pitch unlike Tiverton and this cost them the game.
Hitchin reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation after Monday’s dismal display. Connor Roberts played right back and Josh Bickerstaff left back with Dan Webb and Rolfe as centre backs. Charlie Smith replaced Lucas Kirkpatrick and he played the holding midfield role with Jay Dowie. Jonny McNamara and Jack Green played wide with Callum Donnelly in a free role behind Liam Brooks. The balance seemed right and throughout a better tempo was in evidence. Passing and ball retention was so much better than previous games and the players worked really hard with a slick surface helping with the game played in torrential rain.
Hitchin were on top from the first whistle with Smith shooting high and wide and McNamara heading just wide. Bickerstaff also shot wide before Tiverton scored from their first attack. A long kick from goalkeeper Martin Rice found Levi Landricombe in space and onside and he finished clinically. Hitchin could not believe they were behind and immediately regained the initiative. Bickerstaff had a header saved while Roberts forced a good save from Rice.
McNamara shot just wide soon after a big penalty appeal for handball fell on deaf ears. Hitchin did get the ball in the net through McNamara’s header from a Roberts cross but he was ruled offside. It was all Hitchin but in injury time Hitchin’s defence was caught out and Landricombe scored his second.
A 2-0 deficit was hard to take and a third goal added insult to injury when Howe won a challenge with Michael Johnson and scored after 62 minutes. Before this Hitchin had stated the second half on the front foot with Smith, McNamara and Dowie having chances. After the goal Brooks produced a great shot that went just over the bar and it seemed Hitchin were destined not to score despite the excellent approach work. But Rolfe did score from close range after 80 minutes and Hitchin tried desperately to reduce the deficit further but to no avail.
There were certainly many positives to take from the game and for almost the first time this season the passing and pressing was reminiscent of last season. Hitchin are so much better when they play at a higher tempo and if they play like this the season will take a turn for the better. McNamara had a very good game and certainly lifted the team with his pace and trickery. However the three goals conceded were a concern while up front Hitchin must be more clinical. But the return to basics that Mark Burke spoke of before the game has given him something to build on. However a very tough game lies ahead at Slough on Tuesday when Hitchin will meet one of the favourites for promotion.
Tiverton – Rice, Hurst, Hall, Price, Mammola, Gardner, Short, Knowles, Howe, L Lanricombe, M Landricombe; Subs – J Rogers for Howe76, Bath for L Lanricombe 76, Gregory for Hall 78, Horton, G Rogers
Hitchin – Johnson, Roberts, Bickerstaff, Dowie, Webb, Rolfe, McNamara, C Donnelly, Brooks, Green, Smith; Subs – Kirkpatrick, McCaffrey for Smith 85, Goode, Charles, Cotter for Green 73
Tiverton – L Landricombe 19 and 45+1, Howe 62
Hiitchin – Rolfe 80
Tiverton – Gardner
Hitchin – Rolfe and Brooks
Attendance – 247